Owners of businesses, cars and boats in Richland 1 would be smacked with about a $66 tax increase to operate the capital city’s school system next year – if educators get what they want.
That proposed tax hike is based on each $100,000 in taxable value of commercial operations, including rental properties and vehicles. The money is for operating the 24,000-student district that includes Columbia and much of its vicinity in 2017-2018. School operating costs are not levied against homeowners.
Richland 1 Superintendent Craig Witherspoon and chief operating officer Edward Carlon made the request Tuesday during Richland County Council’s annual budget review for all organizations that are funded by local taxpayers.
The district is asking for $214 million from council – an $11 million increase – to operate schools next year. That figure includes adding 32 new jobs, 12 of which would be for a new language program.
Council has the final say on the district’s budget along with those of other county government agencies.
Among the new programs the district wants to start offering is training to groom students who want to become firefighters, Witherspoon told council. Lower Richland in particular needs more firefighters, he said.
Several council members questioned Witherspoon and Carlon about what is driving the budget increases when the student population is largely holding steady.
The district has gotten either small or no tax increases in recent years, Carlon said.
Newly elected Councilman Chip Jackson was particularly pointed in his questions. “What have you cut?” Jackson asked.
Witherspoon said 50 positions were eliminated at a savings of $2.5 million. But Jackson noted that 32 have been added back. Carlon said he would have to recalculate the numbers to provide the net effect of the cuts and adds in jobs.
The Richland 1 board also cut another $308,000, according to the district’s budget package presented to council.
Jackson, a former chairman of Richland 2 in suburban Columbia, said later that the district’s answers to his question will determine whether he votes for the increase. No one on council said they would vote against the tax increase.
Time to speak up
Richland County residents who want to discuss or question the 2017-2018 budget have their opportunity Thursday. A public hearing is scheduled even though County Council has not finished reviewing all the requests from county agencies.
WHERE: Council chambers in the county administration building, 2020 Hampton St.
WHEN: The discussion is set to start at 6 p.m.